"And now, O Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord GOD, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.” - 2 Samuel 7:28-29 (ESV)
The book of 2 Samuel is focused on the rule and reign of King David of Israel around the tenth century before the incarnation. Whereas 1 Samuel mostly traces the transition in Israel from leadership by judges to reign by kings, 2 Samuel is focused on the reign of Israel's second king along with his accomplishments and failures.
The Big Idea of 2 Samuel
I have taught the big idea of 2 Samuel as the following: God chooses to bring his eternal kingdom through David. This is reflected in the passage quoted above. The quote is taken from chapter 7, which contains the account of God making an eternal covenant with David followed by David's prayer of gratitude, of which the passage above is the conclusion.
In this passage, David recognizes that he is Yahweh's servant and that God has promised his house a blessing that will never end. It is a good thing, because if not for this covenant God made, David's house would not have continued. But David's house does continue. And it is not because of the faithfulness or dignity of David's descendants but despite their shamefulness and faithfulness. The fact that the throne would continue forever means that the Messiah would come from David's line. This means that God will not allow David's house to be utterly exterminated despite the best efforts of other people.
An Outline of 2 Samuel
2 Samuel may be divided into two basic parts of almost the same size. The first is David's victories in 1-10 and the second is David's failures in chapters 11-24. There is a general trend of things getting better and better from chapters one through ten. But in chapter eleven David commits his most notorious sin, or perhaps we should call it a batch of sins, which precipitates a general decline through to the end of the book.
Chapters 1-10 focus on the many good things that happen as David begins to establish his reign in Israel. It starts with David mourning the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. This is honorable since Saul had been bent on destroying David for a long time and even had driven him into hiding. The following several chapters describe the rather slow process of the consolidation of David's reign. 2 Samuel 3:1 succinctly summarizes, "There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David." In chapter 3 Abner, the principal commander on the house of Saul's side, sues for peace with David but is murdered by Joab, David's principal commander. In chapter 4 Ish-Bosheth, the son of Saul and David's counterpart, is also killed. David conquers Jerusalem and defeats invading Philistines in chapter 5. As David celebrates while storing the Ark of the Covenant in chapter 6, Michal, Saul's daughter and David's wife, chides him for dancing shamelessly. David is ready with a retort and their relationship is irreparably damaged. Michal is described as having no children in a way that seems connected to this exchange with David.
Chapter 7 is a seminal chapter of the Bible because it contains the covenant Yahweh makes with David. David desires to build a temple for Yahweh because it does not seem fitting for Yahweh's presence to be in a tent while David lives in a finely built home. But Yahweh reassures David that he will have one of his offspring build a temple. Incredibly, Yahweh adds an unconditional promise to his comments about the temple. He tells David that his throne will be established forever (2 Sam. 7:16). David offers a prayer of gratitude in response.
By chapter 11 of 2 Samuel, David has once again defeated the Philistines. He also defeats the Edomites. David also proactively seeks out relatives of Saul and Jonathan to show kindness and bestow honor. After some messengers are shamefully treated during an ambassadorial mission, David achieves significant victories over the Ammonites and Syrians. It would be difficult to imagine things going much better for David than they are at this point in his life.
David's failures in 11-24
The rest of 2 Samuel is not a happy story. It is a story of disaster and decline. There is murder, betrayal, immorality, corruption, and punishment. The event that precipitates it all is David's adultery with Bathsheba in chapter 11, which leads to her becoming pregnant, which leads to David's conspiring to have her husband Uriah killed, which leads to Yahweh pronouncing judgment on David, which leads to everything else that happens.
Yahweh tells David through the prophet Nathan that several things will happen as a result of David's sin: the sword shall never depart from his house, evil will rise up against David within his own house, other men will publicly fornicate with his wives, and the child conceived by David with Bathsheba will die. Incredibly, this does not mean that the promise to David in chapter 7 has failed, only that the means by which the royal line is much more difficult.
All that God promised as a result of David's sin happened. The child dies in chapter 12. David's son Amnon rapes David's daughter Tamar in chapter 13. Absalom murders Amnon in retaliation. Absalom raises a coup d'etat in chapter 15 which is not put down until chapter 18. Another rebellion arises in chapter 20 at the instigation of Sheba. It is put down. David wins other battles and sings about it in chapter 22. As the book ends in chapter 24, David sins by commanding a census to be made of the people. In response, God sends a pestilence that kills 70,000 men (2 Samuel 24:15). The pestilence stops in Jerusalem where God tells David to build an altar. This is the place that would become the site of the Temple.
The Benefits of 2 Samuel
As in other historical and prophetic books of the Bible, much of the benefit of 2 Samuel is in the stories themselves. The stories teach us about God and how he deals with people.
But perhaps the most striking feature of 2 Samuel is the covenant with David in chapter 7. This sets an incredible contrast with the rest of the book, especially the last half. We are reminded by the last half of 2 Samuel that David is no Messiah. He is a sinful man in need of a Savior. God chooses to set his love on David and not Saul. God has the prerogative to do that.
2 Samuel begins with David as somewhat of a hero, an unstoppable force for good in the world. It ends with David as somewhat of a failure, held together like twine by God's faithfulness. God is the focus. David is not.
How much we need God's grace and mercy in our own lives! We can never rely on our own virtue, our own fortitude, our own determination. A stray look can cast us into a whirlwind of sin. We need humility before God not to boast in what we have done but in who he is and what he has done for us. Our success depends upon him. And because of that, all glory goes to him. We are called to be faithful. Nevertheless, it is his grace that carries the day and never our strength. We do well to remember that.